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Women in Leadership: 6 Tips for Turning Your Passion into a Career

This article is sponsored by Future Female

It’s no secret that transforming your passion into a lucrative and fulfilling career is an intimidating leap into the unknown, and not as straightforward as following a few simple tips. But with the right vision, mentorship, and recommendations you’ll have the best possible chance to build a career doing something you love. 

We interviewed two inspirational women, Belle Lim and Priyanka Ashraf, who shared insights for women aspiring to tread the path of leadership and entrepreneurship. If you’ve been looking for a sign to get the ball rolling, this is it! 

Belle is an international student who came to Australia from Malaysia in 2013. She started with a Foundation degree and then went on to do a Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash University. After completing her Honours, she commenced a PhD in breast cancer research at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Monash University. 

Belle is passionate about gender equity, especially for women of colour, and in the representation of international students. She was president of the Council of International Student Australia (CISA) and founded Future Female, a collective focused on supporting female international students to build skills and professional networks, as well as increasing the representation of women in leadership. In 2019, she started the Future Female Conference with a small committee of international students and alumni. 

The Future Female Conference encompassed ideas of gender equity, cultural diversity, and women in leadership. Last year, the conference expanded to focus on creating opportunities for students looking to establish their careers in Australia. The conference connected international students to industry leaders for professional networking and amplifies the voices of young women entrepreneurs. 

Priyanka is from Bangladesh and came to Australia almost twenty years ago. She is founder and director of the Creative Co-Operative (CCO), an expert mentor at Boosting Female Founders Initiative, a mentor at Tech Ready Women, and has been recognised as Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year (Women’s Agenda Awards 2021). Priyanka studied law and found while practising that, instead of damage control, she wanted to prevent the issues stemming from inequity in the first place. 

When she graduated, she found that her peers were being hired at the same organisations which had rejected her. With her company, COO, Priyanka sought to build an organisation that matches job-seekers with professionally and ethically aligned organisations. Priyanka’s #ShareThePlatform campaign in 2020 continues to spark authentic connections and conversations within the startup community. 

For those looking to establish a career based on their passion, especially international students wanting to embark on an entrepreneurial journey, here are some tips from Belle and Priyanka to help you get started.

1. Seek support

Although you’re just getting started, don’t be afraid to apply for grants and pitch your ideas at startup competitions. Share your vision and plans with people or organisations who you think might support you; this is a chance to receive funding support and a good way for your ideas to receive a spotlight. 

Belle was supported by a Study Melbourne grant and Priyanka won two prizes through Victoria University’s pre-accelerator program called BETA and The Future Founders Festival – both at the very early stages of their startups!

2. Know your superpower

Priyanka says it’s important to realise what your key strengths are.

“It may take a while to discover, but once it’s clear to you what you’re good at, apply it to whatever it is that lights your fire,” she says. “Speaking as a former international student myself – if there’s anything we are known for, it’s our adaptability and resilience. If you can access the right support to harness these skills to turn your passion into a career, you’ll be unstoppable.”

Belle adds, “Don’t underestimate your capabilities as an international student. We tend to have a high level of cultural competence and bring a diverse range of ideas – both of which are very valuable traits.” 

3. Boost your self-confidence

When you are just starting to establish something, you may find it hard to stay optimistic and motivated.

“Not everyone will agree with your vision and many people will doubt your ability – this is because they don’t have the same lived experience as you. Don’t let that put you down and instead keep believing in your values and aspirations,” Belle says.

Take small steps outside your comfort zone and over time you will learn to trust your own voice. 

4. Reach out and network

While frequent networking is encouraged for entrepreneurs, Belle emphasises the value of forging meaningful connections.

“People you form meaningful connections with will help you open doors to unexpected opportunities,” she says.

Seek mentors when networking and build a tribe that will support you and your vision. As an entrepreneur, you may start on your own, but to scale your enterprise to greater heights it’s important to have a strong community. This will benefit you, and create opportunities for like-minded people! 

5. Anticipate challenges and roadblocks

It is important to keep your eyes wide open for additional barriers you may face as an international student entering this path, especially if you are a Woman of Colour.

“As long as you understand what are the barriers you will face, you’ll hopefully be a bit more prepared on how to overcome them,” Priyanka says. 

There are supports designed specifically to assist you in building a meaningful career  – like Future Female and Catalysr – both of which present a safe space for international students to get started on the entrepreneurship and leadership path.

6. Mental health is key

If you, like Belle, are building your business while studying or working full-time, you’ll probably have to work after hours and on weekends. Be careful not to push yourself to the point of exhaustion or burnout.

“I recommend setting firm boundaries for personal rest and wellbeing time, and maintaining a quality life and good mental health,” Belle says. This will ensure you bring your best self forward and remain creative. 

If you’re ready to kickstart a career you’re passionate about, you can connect with Belle and Priyanka as their organisations move into exciting new chapters. 

Future Female is ready for expansion. “The plan is to deliver more of what the audience needs and build a bigger and stronger network for our community of passionate and aspiring women,” Belle says.

Future plans for Priyanka include making her entire team permanent employees, so they feel secure and can move upward in their careers and life. With the support of the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship Grant from the Department of Industry, Science and Technology, Priyanka and her team have created the ‘Anyone Can’ program: a one-of-a-kind program dedicated to encouraging the growth of Women Of Colour in innovation. For any current or aspiring startup founders or STEM professionals who identify as Women of Colour, you can register to their mailing list to be the first in the know of project announcements.